Kakadu National Park ‘falling into disrepair’

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Kakadu national park for grey nomads
Kakadu National Park is absolutely stunning ... but there are problems

A major ABC investigation has exposed a series of major issues with the NT’s iconic Kakadu National Park, which it says is falling into serious disrepair.

The national broadcaster reports that the stunning natural environment has been degrading for years and popular tourist sites have been closed with little warning … all while visitor numbers plummet.

While international tourists once made up more than half of those coming to Kakadu, the ABC says that, in 2019 before the Covid pandemic, they accounted for just 17% of visitors.

General manager of Tourism Top End Glen Hingley says traditionally, overseas visitors spend more and stay longer — but they won’t come unless there’s some certainty about what they’ll be able to see.

“International tourism, sadly, to Kakadu has been on the decline, and not because Kakadu is any less of a destination,” he told the ABC. “But part of it was the uncertainty and the irregularity that would happen for tour operators around access announcements and closures of certain parts of the park.”

Each year, parts of Kakadu are closed because of extreme heat, and then the wet season rains make river crossings and dirt roads impassable. Even before this year’s wet season closures began, many of the park’s most popular attractions were closed.

The ABC reports that spectacular Twin Falls has been inaccessible since 2018 because a crucial creek crossing has not been maintained. The popular Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Yellow Water was closed for refurbishment for a year. And the natural infinity pools above Gunlom Falls — another top tourist site — have been closed for nearly 18 months.

The park, once billed as a jewel in Australia’s tourism crown,  is managed together by Kakadu’s traditional owners and the federal government agency Parks Australia. But the ABC reports their relationship has been fractured, and traditional owners say joint management is in dire shape.

In one example of how the relationship has been damaged, Parks Australia built a walking track near Gunlom Falls that exposed a sensitive part of a sacred site, against the wishes of traditional owners.

And with all that is going on, Curtin University botanist and land rehabilitation expert Professor Kingsley Dixon says Kakadu’s World Heritage status is at risk.

“If we continue to alter landscapes and not manage it, we may find ourselves with a weed-infested and pest-ridden park,” he told the ABC.

The federal government has promised to spend $276 million over 10 years for upgrades across Kakadu, including remediation work in the town of Jabiru.

With international borders still closed, tourism operators are now banking on grey nomads and other domestic visitors to arrive in huge numbers, but they say action is needed to make Kakadu a destination worth visiting.

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33 Responses to Kakadu National Park ‘falling into disrepair’

  1. With Ranger leaving the entire area will become a weed infested haven for pests.
    Community need to have a look at Mossman Gorge in Qld, to see how a first class tourist operation can work.

    • Love Mossman gorge. So much better than Kakadu. There is a beautiful bushwalk around the creek.

      • I totally agree we visited Kakadu a few years ago only stayed one night and left. just about any Park is better Mosman, Litchfield etc.

  2. Been there once, very ordinary IMO. Litchfield on the other hand we found a very enjoyable place to visit.

    • Kakadu was a big disappointment, from the hefty first owners surcharge on entry to the park to the lack of facilities in the ensuing days. Rubbish facilities, badly maintained gravel roads
      (we did pay a hefty entry bill to help cover expenses, remember)
      Kakadu already has had massive Federal funding for decades, now the first residents charge access fees way out of proportion to what we receive. Will I go back? No way

    • We did a tag-a-long caravan trip throughout NT in 2019 and found Kakadu the worst Park in NT on several fronts. Other lesser known NT Parks easily excel Kakadu.

  3. Maybe the traditional owners could have a go at running Kakadu themselves.

    • That’s a risk

      • High risk, agree totally. Ayres Rock is going the same way. Not a great track record when handed back to the so called “traditional owners”.

        • I totally agree, I have visited both places (Uluru and Kakadu) several times and they are definitely going backwards, I have found the service poor the general tidiness below standard, as well as unfriendly staff. The traditional owners just can’t do the job to maintain standards let alone improve them.

    • Didn’t work h for Cape York

    • They don’t care! Simple.

  4. A common factor with many many destinations and attractions we have here is the green eyed devils who think they are the environmental evangelicals just close everything up absolutely no management and let weeds and feral animals run rampant
    And anyone that says let’s manage this problem well they are blasted as environmental terrorists. Even though they are the ones doing all the work for the better of this place

  5. This was also the case for Uluru , to us it was a dust bowl, dirty and unfriendly site, charge the world to stay , very dirty and unpainted units, not friendly Staff, was a wast of travel time and Money. Never again

    • Wow, we took our family of 10 to Uluru in 2019 and it was fantastic our rooms where great the staff couldn’t be more helpful. As for dust it wouldn’t be the red centre without dust. We didn’t climb the rock because we valued the wishes of the indigenous people.
      So I don’t know which place you visited but we loved it and it ticked off one thing from our bucket list.

  6. Kakadu needs protection and Fed Government to have enough rangers to monitor region

  7. Litchfield is way way better,Kakadu never again,costly and no value compared to other site.Uluru same no way will we go back there either.Very poor management and closures of areas take the enjoyment out of what was once a great places to visit.

    • We travelled to the NT in 2005 and even back then Grey Nomads were calling it “Kaka-don’t.” Give me Litchfield any day!

  8. We did Kakadu last year in our caravan and loved it. However, I can see why it wouldn’t attract overseas visitors anymore. The expense wouldn’t be justified. I think the word “unprofessional” comes to mind. Yes, natural sites were closed as was the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. The only tourism information we could find was from the staff at the caravan parks.

  9. Its just like Ayers Rock. No one wants to go there any more. There are much better places to see in Australia that are cheaper and we don’t have hand over our money to a minority who do not deserve it.

    • Harsh comments Ian but unfortunately also very true

  10. The Visitors Info. Centre in Darwin recommended Gunlom Falls to us.
    After that, we were talking to a Ranger within the park about driving to Gunlom but he didn’t tell us the walk up to the top to see the infinity pool was closed.
    We drove quite some time on a very rough road after letting our tyres down. I seem to recall the journey was at least one hour each way only to find access to the pool was closed and the place was deserted.
    We were furious. Such lack of communication and incorrect advice.

  11. Kakadont I believe is a better name. I would never go again. So disappointed..

  12. Unfortunately, ‘the horse has bolted’; accessing all of our great country has become a real issue Australia wide for all ‘none aboriginal people’; with many of the ‘best areas’ restricted / no access / unless you have connections to ‘aboriginal’ people.
    For those of us that have looked forward to exploring ‘all’ of our great country in retirement it is more than frustrating; so for me, ‘giving back the land’ is not the answer.

  13. Sorry, but I love Kakadu. Yep, not a fan of all the “traditional owner” nonsense and the millions that go with it and wonder if the traditional owners would want it if it didn’t come with an annual payment. But, the park is a magic place and I would go back tomorrow if I could.

  14. I can’t help wondering if the decline is due to the joint management structure. A bit like running the show by a committee where no one person is responsible. Kick either one of the joint managers off the team and appoint a CEO who ultimately must take responsibility and you might get somewhere

  15. We spent 2 days at Kakadu a few years ago and never again we were treated like crimals by a couple of young park rangers who would have known about nothing tried to make us let them search all our gear they said travelers like us was not welcome there as we were not with a organized travel or bus group they the money spenders.

  16. Lived in Jabiru in 1980, there was access to all sites and no fees or charges, open plains with extensive grasslands, huge flocks of magpie grease and other birdlife livi g with the resident water buffalo population.
    I returned in 2017. Was charged to access the sites, they were rundown and degraded the grasslands are now choked with mimosa weed and the bird life is a different mix. It needs propper meaningful management or no fees and let it go backwards and be degraded.

  17. Won’t be going anywhere near Kakadu or Uluru because of cost for what you get. Joint management does not work, you only have to look at the deterioration of Barmah national park in Victoria. I will go back to tassie where you are treated well with a huge amount to do.

  18. Fail to understand how WE, all humans are caretakers of this planet Earth..
    SO how are a very small minority the owners?
    They like everyone else has a duty of care to preserve the natural environment.
    Fee charging should be for the upkeep not a money maker to be spent elsewhere.
    Perhaps if all understood it is everyone’s responsibility to cleanup after one’s self which is common respect for everyone including themselves.
    this world is just So much better to live on than mars or the moon.

  19. Costed Kakadu last year found it very underwhelming accommodation at the caravan park was worse than some of the mining camps I stay in every thing was pretty average and expensive last time I visit there
    On the other hand the Daintree in Queensland was excellent plenty more great places to visit it seriously needs some work
    Disappointing to see a beautiful place being so run down

  20. Well, after seeing most of the comments on here about Kakadu and Uluru, I would avoid the NT altogether, why would I go there when the main places to see up there get the revues they have on here? I would rather go to North Queensland and spend my money up there.

  21. It seems NT Stands for No Tourists! I’m all for handing back landmarks to First Nations persons to manage, BUT (there’s always a but) give them some real training in how to manage them! Unfortunately, some see these opportunities as a means for an easy money grab (not all though)! Once the people stop coming, and they will, they will loose interest and the landmark will fall into total disrepair!
    Went to Kakadu, and Uluru, two years ago; 15 years after the first time; and the the two parks were disgusting! Are they still on my to visit list? No, Unfortunately!

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